Urban Transport without the hot air

Issue date: 18 May 2015

Book launch – Thursday 4 June 2015, 18:00 - 19:30, Frenchay Campus, Room 2B020, B Block. Registration required.

A book by transport expert Dr Steve Melia, from the Centre for Transport and Society at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), highlights just how much of what is generally accepted about transport, may not be true.

'Urban transport without the hot air' will be launched at a launch event on 4 June 2015, chaired by Professor Graham Parkhurst. Steve Melia will also be talking at the Hay on Wye literary Festival on 21 May.

The book begins with ten questions, revealing some of the myths that have influenced politicians and transport planners as well as the general public. Are governments trying to 'get us out of our cars'? Is better public transport the solution to congestion in cities? Does Britain have a shortage of family housing?

Steve Melia says, “The more you dig into the detail the more surprises you unearth. A lot of people imagine, for example, that commuting generates most travel but it only accounts for about one trip in seven: leisure and shopping are far more important. Some people imagine that better, cheaper, more frequent public transport would solve our traffic problems, but improving public transport on its own makes very little difference. Doubling bus use across Britain, for example, would cut car traffic by about 1%.

“This book starts with myths and problems and goes on to look at solutions. Britain's population is projected to reach nearly 90 million by the end of this century. How governments and planners respond to that challenge will have a big impact on urban transport. Another myth I often hear is that we are building too many flats and need more family housing. In reality, two-thirds of households in Britain have only one or two people and those proportions are projected to grow. We have an urgent housing crisis mainly affecting single people. Denser urban development, with more flats, generates less traffic and takes up less land – but it also concentrates traffic and congestion in a smaller area. How do you deal with that problem? Part 2 of the book looks at cities that are rising to that challenge: London, Brighton, Cambridge, Freiburg, Groningen and Lyon, including interviews with political leaders such as Ken Livingstone and transport planners including Sir Peter Hendy.”

Some of the conclusions may surprise many readers: urban congestion can never be eradicated so let's concentrate on problems we can solve. There is no strong evidence that transport investment benefits the economy as politicians – and even some transport academics – have claimed.

The final chapter asks 'What can I do?' from three perspectives: environmental campaigners, the foot soldiers of transport planning and in everyday life.

Steve Melia has given up flying and driving, cycled over 5,000 miles across seven countries to gather evidence and the book finishes with a personal view of the dilemmas and challenges of trying to 'walk the talk' in everyday life.

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